Chinese millennials favour clean, green produce

Cally Dupe and Zach RelphCountryman
COFCO International Australia chief executive Bruce Li.
Camera IconCOFCO International Australia chief executive Bruce Li. Credit: Countryman, Cally Dupe

China’s biggest food company says Australia’s ability to remain a top trade partner will rely heavily on whether it can sell a “clean, green image” to Gen Y consumers.

COFCO International Australia chief executive Bruce Li said while demand for Australian produce was strong, China’s “millennial middle class” was trending towards high-protein bread and pastries, beef, wine, high-quality drinking water, health foods and non-GMO packaged oil.

Speaking at the Grain Industry Association of WA’s annual forum on Wednesday night, Mr Li said consumers were eating less grain and more beef and dairy.

He identified beef as a main growth trend, with potential to grow from 9.1 million tonnes in 2017 to 9.62Mt in 2020, with about 20 per cent imported.

“Demand for quality Australian beef is increasing,” Mr Li said.

“There is steady growth for ‘healthy foods’, so WA oats have a strong quality reputation and high consumer recognition. China’s growing and younger middle class are demanding greener, better quality products.”

Mr Li said the biggest challenge for Australian food exporters would be competing with other nations on quality and price.

“Australia has a good reputation for quality, which is a good thing in the Chinese market,” he said.

Australian exports to China have almost hit $12 billion, partly due to demand for wool, beef, sheep meet and wine.

Recent analysis by Rural Bank showed China remains Australia’s top trading partner. Japan was second at $4.47 billion and the US third at $3.83 billion.

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan lauded Australia’s “strong relationship with China” and Chinese investment in WA agribusiness, labelling Shanghai Ground Food Tech’s purchase of Brownes Dairy last November a “fantastic example”.

“Inbound investment is something we want to encourage,” she told the forum.

Mr Li spent two days prior to the conference meeting with representatives of WA agrifood businesses, including Bruce Chueng from Pardoo Beef.

COFCO International Australia has a long-term customer relationship with grain trader and handler CBH Group, sourcing malt and feed barley from WA.

He said his company did not plan to invest in the State’s supply chain, and was concentrating on distributing local products to China.

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